Something I had published in GK in 2008. It still holds true….
The Darkness of Becoming a Kashmiri
By Carin Jodha Fischer
Just a few evenings ago, I was sitting at the banks of Dal Lake with a very close Kashmiri friend, realizing just how much living in Kashmir had already colored my sense of the world. I marveled at the ability of a deceptively sparkling lake to so skillfully disguise all signs of deterioration in the darkness of the night. Darkness often hides unbearable truths that cannot be so easily hidden in light. I then said to my friend how glossy depictions of abundant sun shine and cloudless blue skies over the Valley would never accurately reflect the haunting sadness of Kashmir, and how I felt the dark colors of winter, with its various hues of earth tones and shades of twilight, more fittingly portrayed its melancholy mood. I thought of images of young men in dark ankle-grazing pherins rushing along bare country roads towards sources of warmth and identity, of wooden tongas making way for endless convoys of unadorned army trucks, of officiously determined black ambassadors leading their charge on slush covered roads, of men clad in dark green fatigues and bulky one-size-fits-all bullet proof vests impairing any gestures of human grace, of faces covered with black scarves bearing no emotion besides fear and total lack of trust, of flocks of black birds scattered across pale-gray wintry skies while fleeing intermittent squalls of snow and sometimes less natural bursts. And then I thought how the palette of Kashmir’s wintry season is not only a much more realistic portrayal of its often unbearably dark state of being, but how much its absence of permanent bright light had already darkened my own emotional canvass with a compassion and sadness that I would never be able to erase.
Yesterday, I was sitting near the river under the darkest of curfews, listening to the wailing voices of funeral singers and distant gun shots, mourning the deaths of men I have never known and will never be able to befriend, and longing to sit at the lake again in the darkness of night where truth can be so easily hidden from someone’s view. The sky was laden with dark clouds, and rain was falling on the graveyards of the old city where the dead were being buried. Yesterday, it seemed the sky over Kashmir would never clear again, and light and sunshine had now permanently vanished from my portrait of the Valley. It was a picture of a place that people who have always lived here have accepted as reality painting, but that I have yet to become emotionally equipped to hang on my wall.
I thought of the people I have met, the respect I have for those who have been struggling against darkness for so long, the families who have been reduced to tears, and the complete powerlessness one feels in the face of unstoppable human tragedy. I wanted to reach out and say to people to please still believe in the faint illusion of justice, fairness and the triumph of the human spirit. I wanted to assure them that people did not die in vain. I wanted someone to tell me that the sadness and anger I felt would fade, making it possible to see bright light again in a place that so often seems to plunge into permanent darkness. But most of all, I wanted to tell people that I had now become a Kashmiri, regardless of how unbearable it may be at times, and that their reality had very much become mine, even if I might never be able to fully comprehend the full range of its dark colors and hues.
Today rain clouds and curfews have lifted for three hours, but the darkness refuses to vanish. Where does one find bright light before truth once again fades into the darkness of night? Only a Kashmiri would know.
(Carin Jodha Fischer works on community based rural development initiatives in Kashmir.)